The Auschwitz concentration camp complex was the largest of its kind established by the Nazi regime. It included three main camps, all of which deployed incarcerated prisoners at forced labor. One of them also functioned for an extended period as a killing center. The camps were located approximately 37 miles west of Krakow, near the pre-war German-Polish border in Upper Silesia, an area that Nazi Germany annexed in 1939 after invading and conquering Poland.
Auschwitz II–Birkenau was designated by the Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, Germany's Minister of the Interior, as the place of the "final solution of the Jewish question in Europe ".
From early 1942 until late 1944, transport trains delivered Jews to the camp's gas chambers from all over Nazi-occupied Europe The camp's first commandant, Rudolf Höss, testified after the war at the Nuremberg Trials that up to three million people had died there.
"Auschwitz" was made the official name again by the Germans after they invaded Poland in September 1939. Birkenau, the German translation of Brzezinka (= "birch tree"), referred originally to a small Polish village that was destroyed by the Germans to make way for the camp.
According to an article published in 1989 by Franciszek Piper, the director of research at the Auschwitz Museum, the minimum number of victims killed at the Auschwitz group of camps between 1940 and 1945 is 1.1 million, of whom about 90% were Jews. This figure is deliberately cautious. Since 1989 most serious scholarship on the subject has suggested a figure of between 1.1 and 1.5 million dead.
The figure of 1.1 million is deliberately cautious and should be treated as the lowest serious figure. The German Wikipedia article gives a figure of 1.4 million, for example.
During the first several months, the prisoners’ rooms had neither beds nor any other furniture. Prisoners slept on straw-stuffed mattresses laid on the floor. After reveille in the morning, they piled the mattresses in a corner of...